On Second Thought, That Koreatown Emergency Homeless Shelter Might Get Built — Somewhere Else

A proposal in May 2018 for an emergency homeless shelter in Koreatown led to community outrage, protests and even a threat to recall City Councilman Herb Wesson. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

What would have been the first temporary homeless shelter in the city of Los Angeles is ready to try again.

The city's initial proposal for a shelter site in Koreatown near Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue led to protests and even a threat to recall Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, who represents the neighborhood.

Wesson walked back the proposal in June, calling for the city to study other potential locations and gather more community feedback.

Now, the city's 10th District may have come to a sort of agreement after a month of community negotiations, mediated by the United Way.

The new proposed site is in Lafayette Park — the triangle where Wilshire and Hoover Street meet. Los Angeles neighborhood boundary lines are notoriously difficult to pin down, but if we go by neighborhood council boundary lines, the shelter would fall squarely in MacArthur Park, just outside of Koreatown.

Wesson spoke with Take Two's A Martinez about what it took to get the proposal this far. The conversation has been edited for clarity.

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson represents L.A.'s 10th District, which includes Koreatown. (Daryl Barker/KPCC file photo)

A Martinez: You got a lot of backlash for the first proposal. What issues did residents raise?

Herb Wesson: We in the city are making a very strong commitment to try and deal with homelessness. That frightens some people. It brings up questions and some people are angry. But we just continued to chat with people.

Part of it was just educating people in what's going to be happening in these Bridge housing projects and how they're going to be monitored and supervised. It looks like we're at a point where we've got a project that everyone can embrace.

AM: Was educating people something you weren't able to do successfully the first time around?

HW: I don't think that we put as much work into it that was necessary. A big lesson was learned here that communication is the key. (We had to) listen to people and let them give recommendations and suggestions. As long as there's communication, there's always hope.

A rendering of the proposed Koreatown emergency homeless shelter from District 10 councilmember and Council president Herb Wesson's website.

AM: How did your office go about reaching an agreement to address protesters concerns?

HW: We wanted them to give suggestions and recommendations. When you look at what we've been able to accomplish here — we started looking at temporary beds for 65 to 70 people. We're now at a point where we're going to end up with the Bridge Home project that can house 65 to 80 people, at the original site, senior affordable housing with a community center, and some form of permanent low-cost housing, and the creation of a pilot program at my district office where we will house people. At the end of the day, the community winds up with a more district-wide plan and accommodations for more people.

AM: Did your office consult with the residents and business owners specifically around the new Lafayette Park location?

HW: We got a request from an organization that has been running programming in that park for decades to look east of the site. And the tennis court area is located directly across the street, south of Lafayette Park. We've been having meetings with individuals in the surrounding area. We've been garnering support and we've put in place a way to inform more of the community. So we already have more letters of support in the matter of a few days compared to the Vermont site.

AM: Does the new proposal shift concerns from one part of the community that's predominantly Korean-American over to another that's mostly Latino?

HW: That's not true at all. This is less than a half a mile from the original site. It's still going to service the Westside. It's going to service the Eastside as well. This is the highest census tract in the entire 10th District that has a population of homeless. There's not one census tract in the area that has more homeless issues or cleanup issues than this one location.

The proposal is not a done deal. The City Council must vote to approve the project, but Wesson is hopeful this version will be a winner. The original proposal would have been the first shelter to open under Mayor Eric Garcetti's A Bridge Home program, but a cluster of trailers in downtown L.A. will get that distinction instead.

CORRECTION: This story was updated to reflect that the proposed location of the shelter is in MacArthur Park, according to neighborhood council maps. A previous version of this headline incorrectly said: "On Second Thought, Koreatown Might Accept That Emergency Homeless Shelter."


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